SC grants 4 weeks more to Sanjay Dutt to surrender

New Delhi: A day before the deadline for his surrender ended, Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt today got partial relief from the Supreme Court which granted him four weeks time on "humanitarian" grounds to surrender before jail authorities to undergo 42 months remaining sentence in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case.

Dutt, 53, had sought six months time to surrender to complete his seven movies in which producers have invested over Rs 278 crore.

The apex court accepted the plea of humanitarian grounds raised by him for extending the time for surrender which was to expire tomorrow but made it clear that no further extension will be granted to him.

"Considering the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case and reasons stated in the petition, we are not inclined to extend the time by six months. However, we extend the time by four weeks from tomorrow. It is made clear that no further extension will be granted," a bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said.

The bench also noted in its order that senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Dutt, has agreed to the same that no further extension will be sought.

At the outset, Salve said the plea by Dutt is only on grounds of mercy and not on any Constitutional rights.

No sooner had Salve commenced his submission, the bench said,"You cannot say your client was unaware of the judgement of the designated court in 2007."

The court said the main reason cited in the petition for extension of time is that Rs 278 crore has been invested by producers in seven movies starring Dutt. However, it asked Salve, "Are they not aware that in 2007 a judgement was declared".

Salve said that a little extension of time to Dutt to surrender would help him to wind up his commitments.

"It happens in life" was how Salve described the entire episode. When the court wanted to know from him what according to him would be a reasonable time to surrender, he said "a little more than eight weeks could be considered purely on humanitarian grounds and mercy".

However, CBI counsel and Additional Solicitor General Haren Raval said he has "written instructions to oppose" Dutt's plea.

"The present application seeks review of your judgement. It is not a right approach," the ASG submitted.

However, the bench said "we can extend the time for his surrender".

At this, Raval informed the court about the order passed yesterday by a bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir dismissing the petitions of three convicts who had contended that till the mercy pleas filed on their behalf are decided by the President, they should be given time to surrender.

Salve said in those petitions, legal grounds concerning Article 21 of the Constitution relating to fundamental right to life and liberty were raised.

Raval said that in those petitions, grounds of age, ill health, among others, were taken and rejected by the court.

"Here (Dutt's plea) its a commercial ground," Raval said.

However, the bench said it cannot allow same rule in all cases and that it depends on case to case basis.

"Here they (Dutt and his lawyer) are only pressing on grounds of mercy," the bench said.

The ASG further argued that allowing Dutt's plea will open flood gates and it would be akin to modification of the March 21 judgement.

The bench, however, did not agree with his submission and said,"It is not a modification and we are only extending the time".

Raval replied in the affirmative when the bench asked him "does the present application attract modification".

The bench told him that CBI should not have any apprehension against Dutt as it was not going to grant anything longer than four weeks extension for his surrender.

"We should not exceed the 'laxman rekha' of four weeks," the bench said.

It also reminded the CBI that the agency did not challenge Dutt's acquittal in the case under the stringent anti-terror law TADA, but preferred many appeals against other accused.

"We are saying it in a lighter vein, you have not challenged his (Dutt's) acquittal under TADA when you filed many appeals in other cases. In many appeals filed by the CBI, we extended the sentence," the bench said.

Meanwhile, the apex court's order granting partial relief to Dutt was not welcomed by the counsel for the three other convicts, in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, who had also sought extension of time to surrender.

Farhana Shah, counsel for Zaibunnisa Anwar Kazi (70), Issaq Mohd Hajwane (76) and Shariff Abdul Gafoor Parker (88) alias Dadabhai, said, "It is nice that Dutt has got the relief. Definitely it is sad and disgusting that their (the three convicts) plea (for more time to surrender) on medical grounds was not considered and discrimination prevails everywhere."

"I am very upset. Poor people who really deserve some relief on medical grounds, their plea was not considered. Their condition is so bad that they can't even come on their own and they are aged," she said.

Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy said he was also not happy with today's order. "The judges have shown extra-ordinary consideration for this person (Dutt)…he has shown himself to be a weak person who cannot keep his word."

Swamy also said,"Dutt did exactly the opposite of what he had earlier said, that he would surrender on time. I hope that this is the last and final time (that extension is granted), otherwise there will be decline in respect which people have for the Supreme Court."

"This is a ridiculous argument that he has previous commitments and has to complete his movies," he said.

Dutt, who was directed by the apex court on March 21 to surrender by April 18, has already spent 18 months in jail in connection with the case.

The apex court had on March 21 upheld his conviction in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case which it said was organised by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and others with involvement of Pakistan's ISI.

However, the apex court had reduced to five years the six year jail term awarded to him by a designated TADA court in 2006, ruling out his release on probation because the "nature" of his offence was "serious".

Dutt, the son of famous Bollywood couple Sunil Dutt and Nargis, was convicted by the TADA court for illegal possession a 9 mm Pistol and a AK-56 rifle which was part of the consignment of weapons and explosives brought to India for the coordinated serial blasts that killed 257 people and injured over 700.